Repelling the Invasion
One of the major challenges confronting the neurotechnology device industry is dealing with the degree of invasiveness—both actual and perceived—that accompanies surgically implanted stimulation devices. As we’ve seen, this issue presents the field with many problems. The cost of the surgical procedure can add significantly to the overall device cost. The complexity of the surgical procedure can be a psychological barrier for many potential users and even some clinicians. And the risk of infection, device failure, and other complications, however small, is always looming over the heads of manufacturers, surgeons, and users.
It’s for these reasons and others that we’re so encouraged by the potential of magnetic stimulation systems as a possible adjunct to or replacement of electrical stimulation devices. As we discuss in our article on page 1 of this issue, there have been several recent advances in our understanding of transcranial magnetic stimulation that may hasten the development of commercial products.
To begin with, developing techniques for predicting and measuring the levels of electric fields and current densities induced by magnetic stimulation in different parts of the brain is a fundamental advance. The more we learn about what’s theoretically possible in terms of delivering the precise amount of stimulation to specific locations in cortical and sub-cortical brain regions, the sooner we’ll be able to develop systems that approach those theoretical limits.
Advances in uncovering the mechanisms of action of rTMS are also critical. It’s particularly encouraging to learn of potential commonalities between magnetic and electrical stimulation. If these similarities are borne out, it could significantly hasten product development since manufacturers would not have to start from scratch in devising stimulation parameters and regimens. And increased understanding of the time course of action of magnetic stimulation on neural cells may boost the potential of neuromodulation applications of rTMS. By reducing the number of stimulation sessions to what’s therapeutically necessary, rTMS vendors can make the treatment more palatable to patients and clinicians.
While the first commercial rTMS systems have been large, power-consuming units more suitable for clinical environments than home use, it is not out of the question that more portable, or even wearable systems could emerge down the road. If so, the neurotechnology industry could have a powerful and profitable new weapon in its arsenal, in addition to a reduced threat of invasion to the patient.
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